Historical Performances: Bizet’s “Carmen” with Regina Resnik, Jon Vickers and Pilar Lorengar – San Francisco Opera, October 9, 1964

Note from William: This post continues my series of observances of historic performances that I attended at San Francisco Opera during the general directorship of Kurt Herbert Adler. This is the sixth of 13 such observances of performances from the company’s 1964 Fall season.

Even after a decade of attending operas, I had not seen my first “Carmen”. One of San Francisco Opera’s 1964 season offerings, it was not offered on my Saturday night. Of the three scheduled performances, one included the Don Jose of the great Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, so I went to the opera box office to obtain a ticket for that Friday night performance.

The Tuesday and Friday Nights of Olde  at the San Francisco Opera 

This was the first time that I had attended either a Tuesday or Friday night performance at the War Memorial Opera House, as opposed to a Thursday or Saturday evening performance. A half-century after the fact it likely seems unimportant as to which day of the week one attended an opera, but in 1964 there were notable differences.

[Below: Mezzo-soprano Regina Resnik as Carmen in the 1964 San Francisco Opera production of Bizet’s “Carmen”; edited image, based on a photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Every opera of the season was performed on either a Tuesday or a Friday nights. Each would normally have at least more performance that would take place on Thursday or Saturday either before or after the Tuesday or Friday performance.

The “season tickets” that comprised all of the operas of the season included both Tuesday and Friday nights. A patron of the opera during the season expected to attend operas on Tuesday and Friday night each week.

If you, as a patron, sat in a choice location you were by definition a “guarantor”, which meant that you paid extra for your seat, but also would guarantee that, if the opera company fell short of its income goals, that you would pay a share of any deficit.

Tuesday and Friday nights were “society” nights, most of the men in black tie (or white tie), a tradition that now extends only to the San Francisco Opera Fall season’s opening night.

Decades ago the guarantor system was dismantled and replaced by “mandatory contributions” for people with seats in choice locations. Tuesday and Friday each became its own subscription night, the Thursday series was moved to Wednesday, and, beginning in 1965, a Sunday matinee was added. Over time a variety of half series and, more recently, “make your own series” schemes have proliferated.

The Performance

Carmen was the fifth role that I had seen the American mezzo-soprano Regina Resnik perform.

Resnik was unexcelled at translating feminine characters that exuded power onto the operatic stage, yet I found her Carmen less convincing than her Amneris, her Fricka, her Madame Croissy or her Queen of Spades Countess.

I rather preferred her gutsy Amneris [50 Year Anniversaries: “Aida” with Price, Konya, Resnik, Shaw and Tozzi – San Francisco Opera, September 21, 1963] and her formidable Fricka [50 Year Anniversaries: Vickers, Shuard, Resnik in “Die Walküre” – San Francisco Opera, October 10, 1963.]

[Below: Regina Resnik, at the back of sets onstage at the War Memorial Opera House; edited image, based on a photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Resnik had the ability to convey the end-of-life experience of  Madame Croissy [50 Year Anniversaries: “Dialogues of the Carmelites” with Venora, Resnik, Ericsdotter – October 26, 1963] and death by fright of the Pikovaia Dama [50 Year Anniversaries: “Queen of Spades” with McCracken, Kirsten, Resnik – San Francisco Opera, October 5, 1963.

As I reflect on Resnik’s mezzo characters from a longer term perspective, I suspect that Resnik brought a maturity to Carmen that was at odds with the character’s youthful spontaneity. Carmen exudes power in her own way, but a convincing Amneris, Fricka, Croissy or Pikovaia Dama is not necessarily a convincing Carmen.

Jon Vickers’ Don Jose

Totally convincing, however, was the Don Jose of Jon Vickers. The production  (staged by Dino Yannopoulos with sets and costumes by Howard Bay) dates from 1959. In that year and in 1960, 1964 and 1966, Jon Vickers was the Don Jose. Mario del Monaco performed the role in 1962 and Richard Martell sang two of the three performances of 1964, but otherwise Vickers had a lock on the role in this production.

[Below: Don Jose (Jon Vickers) reads a letter from his mother; edited image, based on a photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


I had first seen Vickers in the “Walküre”  performance with  Resnik cited above. He brought to Don Jose a weighty spinto voice that was as beautiful as it was powerful.

Other Cast Members

Pilar Lorengar was Micaela and New York baritone Joshua Hecht (a frequent performer during the Adler Era) was Escamillo. Ferdinand Leitner, who had split “Carmen” conducting duties with Geroge Pretre, was at the podium.